Increased levels of fighting in South Sudan have apparently led to the SA Army being asked to send a mounted infantry battalion to the continent’s newest state in an effort to restore order.
At the same time the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said more than 23 000 South Sudanese have fled to Uganda.
Fighting continues between government forces and rebels despite ceasefire talks being underway and the volatile situation in South Sudan is on the agenda of an AU meeting currently underway in Addis Ababa.
Afrikaans daily Beeld reported Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as saying it would be difficult for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to make 1 000 soldiers available for deployment to South Sudan. She said the South African military could offer assistance but did not specify what form it would take.
SANDF head of corporate communications Siphiwe Dlamini told the paper South Africans were already part of the UN mission in Darfur adding the AU meeting would have to take decisions on how to further the peace process in the East African country.
Security consultant Johnathan Meyer of Globesec said the call for South African troops did not come as a surprise.
“We can do it, even though it would put the SANDF at saturation point in terms of continental deployments,” he said.
The latest eruption of fighting between government troops and rebels supporting Riek Machar has seen at least 2 500 people a day seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda UNHCR’s Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.
Smaller but growing numbers of South Sudanese refugees are also fleeing to other neighbouring countries. More than 5 300 refugees have been registered in Ethiopia – though the number is likely higher as the remote border area is hard to access. In north-west Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, where as many as 300 South Sudanese are now arriving daily, UNHCR staff registered 3 173 new arrivals by Sunday.
Representatives of both sides are currently meeting in the Ethiopian capital in talks mediated by the East African regional organisation, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), with an immediate ceasefire at the top of the agenda.
The South Sudan Government has declared a state of emergency in Unity and Jonglei states. With opposition forces now controlling Bor, the Jonglei capital, a large government military contingent has moved north to Pariang, close to Yida and Ajuong Thok camps.
On other fronts, the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, continues to protect about 62 000 civilians at its bases, with humanitarian actors providing relief and support. This includes nearly 30 000 at its two Juba bases, a UN spokesperson said.
The Mission also reports the situation in Juba continues to be tense. In addition to protecting civilians in its bases, Mission troops are conducting day and night patrols in the capital. UNMISS notes continued instability and fighting in a number of locations, including around Bor and in areas in Unity State.